INTERVIEW: MARTIN KEEHN

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Based in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, designer Martin Keehn draws his inspiration from obscure corners of pop culture, and everyday anti-heroes, which culminates in the creation of twisted classics; pieces that would just as soon be at home in a high school gymnasium as they would be waiting in line for a leather bar. We recently had the opportunity to speak with the New York designer on past influences, current trends, and the future of the Martin Keehn brand.


OAK: We’re living in an era of exclusives, collaborations and limited runs. As a designer, how do you feel about this trend, and what do you think it means for the sustainability of designs?

MARTIN KEEHN: Exclusives, collaborations and limited runs are the new bran muffin. What ever sells the cereal… I wish I could have “bespoke home land antioxidant tattoo” on my label. I mean ultimately I’m not as cynical as I sound as long as these things breathe new life into culture instead of just another excuse to do a heritage fake torn, whisker-crotch, faded camou print, Reaganomic pair of jeans.

OAK: Your influences from pop culture are at times obscure ones (The French Connection 2), which come off as specifically genuine in your branding. Can you reveal some other hidden-in-plain-sight influences of yours from the zeitgeist that we may have overlooked?
MK: Right now I find myself drawn to detours and diversion in the road and sidewalks. I’m always taking pictures of them. I want to go to the side of the street and walk though them instead of avoiding them. I love the hazard stripes, the blue painted plywood corridors and barriers. I especially love when they drive rough cut planks into the street and create subterranean areas for the men to work on the pipes below the street. I guess it reminds me of going to the hardware store with my dad as a child or something. I also love Kelly Ripa and head lines like “MIRACLE ON THE HUDSON!”

Picture 18Martin Keehn leather shoulder hoodie in black.

OAK: What influences from pop culture are you playing with now?
MK: Well, like I said above I am attracted to things that point to change or modernization. I don’t want to reject the past though. In fact I LOVE when things I make remind people of someone or something. An idea I always play with is “the clothes his wife bought for him” or “a retired man’s young looks.”

OAK: What pop culture personality (be it a movie character, or actual person) from the past or present would you like to give the Martin Keehn treatment to, and how would they wear your designs?
MK: One of my early influences was Gene Kelly. I loved his sexy athletic, and somehow smart-ass insouciance. Later in life though I’ve come to really identify with Luke Skywalke [and] his searching aspirational spirit and moxy. I’d love to dress a hybrid of the two. He may come off as the late great Bernie Mac.

OAK: Who would play in you in a movie?
MK: Crispin Glover.

Picture 19Martin Keehn leather pocket hoodie in grey.

OAK: On the other end of the spectrum, you celebrate everyday style icons in your work as well (the gym teacher and class clown for example). What were you like in high school? If you could give your 15-year-old self any advice, what would it be?
MK: I was a freak, perhaps more in my own head but I was a highly visible trouble maker obsessed with style. At the same time a very rigid lonely romantic. I would tell my self to try to have some compassion for yourself and not worry what others think of you so much. Say yes, take chances and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. All the things I still have to say to myself…

OAK: What are you currently listening to?
MK: Killing Joke, Aretha Franklin (Luther Vandross period) and 1010 WINS.

OAK: Going forward, how would you like to see the Martin Keehn brand evolve?
MK: I hope to be able to touch every part of the market but not be thought of as any one kind of designer. It’s my vision of the the truly modern man. He wants the best shirt made in the best fabric with his coolest sweats and a killer leather jacket. And some weird shit thrown in there sometimes.

Picture 20Martin Keehn leather pocket hoodie in black.

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